Day celebrates families, learning and connections

September 16, 2016

More than 500 families came to the Saint Michael’s College campus for Fall Alumni and Family Weekend, September 16-18. The key day was Saturday, with a host of academic events all day, an ambitious first Campus Public Safety Field Day and several athletic events.

“The goal of Fall Alumni and Family Weekend is to provide the College’s alumni and families the opportunity to connect during Vermont’s finest season,” said Allison Gardner, associate director for alumni and family relations.  “This year we hosted an Academic Showcase on Saturday morning, allowing families the opportunity to connect with faculty and staff about the First Year Seminar Program, the Honors Program, Study Abroad, Career Services, Accelerated Summer College and Academic Research.”

These morning academic events were followed by the Campus Safety Field Day from 12:30 p.m. until, 3 p.m. featuring K-9 demonstrations, fire truck tower rides, obstacle courses and an “ice cream mountain meltdown.” Young alumni met up at Three Needs for a happy hour in Burlington, and many families attended the Dean’s Reception in Ross Sports Center early Saturday evening, with posters, videos and PowerPoints highlighting student and faculty work.  “Most importantly, people connected with one other during a glorious weekend!” said Gardner.

“I think it was hugely successful,” said Angela Irvine, director of foundation relations and sponsored programs, about the academic events that she attended starting Saturday morning in the Dion Family Student Center’s Roy Room “It gave parents chance to learn about what the opportunities are here, and I saw a lot of parents were learning about the services right along with their students. The focus was on academic achievement.” A new format with low-key information tabling instead of sit-down sessions as in past years made it one of the best of these events yet, she said, estimating that over two hours more than 200 people came through in Dion.

At the Dean’s Reception later that evening, academic departments were invited to highlight faculty and student work, with perhaps half or more of all departments participating. Families could view a video on a recent educational trip to Cuba, or one about alumni author Luong Ung, whose book is being read for this year’s Common Read in First-Year seminars; or a video produced by a student about climate change, based on summer research.

“People were very interested,” Irvine said. Along with students and their families, some alumni visited campus for the weekend as a sort of informal fall homecoming opportunity, and the Alumni Board met. Also present prominently throughout the day were Vice President for Academic Affairs Karen Talentino and Dean Jeffrey Ayres.

Doug Babcock, director of public safety, emailed campus afterward with “A huge thank you to everyone for making our first Campus Safety Field Day a success,” given steady participation fromn the Field Days’ start at about 12:30 p.m. until the 3 p.m. close.

“This was the first outreach event like this for campus safety that we’ve ever done,” said Babcock, “and it was really a coordinated effort” among his office and Vermont Emergency Management Services, Chittenden County emergency response teams, Red Cross disaster response team and others. Popular highlights with passersby included riding up in the Colchester Fire Department’s tower-truck tower — “It ran nonstop the entire day,” said Babcock. The largest single crowd, perhaps 60 people, gathered to watch Police Officer Dave Dewey demonstrate K-9 work, including evidence tracking and how his dog might bite an attacker (protected in this case). An alum also did a demonstration of Brazilian jujitsu defense techniques; Rescue demonstrated CPR; and people could race in full firefighter gear, or, in the adjacent Lyons parking lot, try driving a golf course through obstacles in goggles simulating various levels of blood-alcohol, or experience the distraction-hazard of driving while texting.

At other stations around the green, guests could learn to use and practice with a fire extinguisher, and Sodexo donated a giant ice cream sundae called a Meltdown Mountain, while other vendors provided other free food to guests. “We went through 40 gallons of ice cream,” Babcock said. Public Safety officers had giveaways and demonstrated software available to students that lets them call for help or invite walking-escorts on campus. “I want Public Safety to be approachable – we don’t’ want to be the Dark Tower, we want to be real people who engage in the real world and that’s what this was about,” Babcock said.

Going on at the same time as the Field Day were soccer and rugby games on nearby athletics fields, and tennis matches. “We heard positive feedback and had contact with a couple hundred people,” the safety chief said of his event. “My measure of success for this first time was that we pulled it off,” and Public Safety would consider it again in future years. Providing entertainment on the Durick green for almost two hours during those activities was the student band “Seven Leaves.” The campus Center for Women and Gender also had a presence.

The other Saturday evening highlight was the 28th Annual Athletic Hall of Fame Induction and Celebration Ceremonies in the Roy Room of Dion Family Student Center.

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